The Good: Messages, Moments of character
The Bad: Short, Fractured, Uninspired villains, Artwork, Light on genuine character development, Requires a lot of non-Flash knowledge to truly get
The Basics: The Flash, Volume 5: History Lessons is a series of vignettes that do not come together to create anything remotely close to a coherent volume.
Whenever there is a reboot of a popular franchise that has an iconic villain, it always fascinates me to see how that adversary is treated. When DC Comics rebooted its entire universe with The New 52, the publisher had the chance to rework, redefine and reinvent all of its major adversaries. With The Flash, a franchise with a ton of recognizable and well-developed villains, there were few that readers were more eager to see than the Reverse Flash. The Reverse Flash has had several incarnations over the years - from Eobard Thawne for Barry Allen to Professor Zoom (Hunter Zolomon for Wally West) - both in print and on television with The Flash Season 1 (reviewed here!). With The New 52, some readers were left underwhelmed by the reinvention of the Reverse Flash in The Flash, Volume 4: Reverse (reviewed here!). While I enjoyed that volume and thought the Reverse Flash in it was interesting, his story was wrapped up very quickly and without much in the way of genuine sophistication or complexity. So, going into The Flash, Volume 5: History Lessons, I was prepared for a regroup for The Flash.
The Flash, Volume 5: History Lessons is an anthology of an Annual issue with its own story and four comic books, making it one of the shorter graphic novels in recent memory. It is a fundamentally fractured anthology as the Annual had two complete (if you can call them that!) stories and there is another story before the meat of The Flash, Volume 5: History Lessons, which is essentially a three-issue arc that involves a legendary killer from the Gem Cities. Unfortunately, the final story comes after so much filler and is nowhere near tight enough to captivate the reader, given how it is so quickly resolved, relies upon a lot of non-The Flash DC Universe magical (non-scientific) concepts to sell it, and is basically a set-up for something else. The result is that The Flash, Volume 5: History Lessons is a tremendously unsatisfying book.
Opening with Barry Allen and Hal Jordan spending a night out before Jordan returns to Oa forever, the pair is suddenly teleported to Arena World. Flashing back to the time when Barry Allen and Hal Jordan first met, Barry Allen was working on a case of multiple child abductions around the U.S. when he figures out the abductor's pattern. Hal Jordan figured out the pattern at the same time and both end up at the same children's home at the same time when the children are abducted from the home and Green Lantern and The Flash are also teleported away to a space ship. Rescuing children from the ship and a training facility on a distant world, the Flash and Green Lantern hunt for the last three missing children on the nearby Arena World. Finding them in monster robots, the pair rescues the children at a price: they must come back to fight for the House Of Verus in a death match against other aliens.
This story is a retcon for the first time Hal Jordan and Barry Allen met and discovered each other's true identities while in their superhero guises. The "present day" story is hampered by the fact that the emotional impact of Hal Jordan leaving is entirely muted for those (like me) who had not kept up with Green Lantern to know that Hal Jordan had been put in charge of the Green Lantern Corps and was moving to Oa full time. The flashback section completely undermines the impact of the present day parting by putting a finite cap on the relationship between Hal Jordan and Barry Allen. In The New 52, readers lose a substantive relationship between Hal Jordan and Barry Allen because their relationship is bookended in this story. The "epic friendship" between the two heroes is vastly overstated in the New 52 as the reader is supposed to believe that it developed in the five years in between Hal Jordan meeting The Flash and him leaving Earth for Oa. The story is a "heartbreaking" old case . . . in which there were no casualties. The entire story seems overblown and silly.
On Forrest's birthday, The Flash has to leave the party early to try to save the life of a family trapped in a fire. He is unable to save Gloria's mother, though he manages to get the little girl out in time. Flashing forward two years, Barry Allen and Patty Spivot are planning their day together when Dalton White, Gloria's father, threatens publicly to blow up the apartment building the fire was in unless The Flash appears. The Flash comes and tries to talk the suicidal man down.
By comparison to the first story, the second story is ridiculously simple, but thematically tight. The artwork for Gloria makes her seem like a little girl, so the idea that two years later, she is an EMT is problematic, but besides that the vignette is just very simplistic.
The Flash, Volume 5: History Lessons continues with The Flash engaged in a battle with Spitfire after Spitfire killed Dr. Carlson, one of Barry Allen's mentors. Spitfire escapes in an airplane, which makes it so The Flash must rely upon the Air Force to help him pursue her and prevent her from releasing various plagues upon the world. Spitfire is a terrible villain with a simplistic motivation, who is thwarted far too easily to create an engaging story. As a throwaway adventure for The Flash, the conflict with Spitfire is a huge set-up with no real payoff.
The next story is the meat of The Flash, Volume 5: History Lessons, which begins in 1848 where a pair of miners fight over gems. At the Keystone Diamond Exchange in modern times, The Flash confronts Tar Pit and Chroma. In the process of thwarting them, The Flash discovers a mass grave. Despite having nothing to do in the Cold Case Room, Captain Frye refuses to assign Barry to the case, instead giving it to the overworked Forrest. Barry investigates anyway and discovers that there was a copycat killer for the infamous Broome Hill Butcher who continued the killing spree after the Butcher was locked up. Barry believes that the copycat could be the person who killed his mother and he confronts the incarcerated Hollis Holden to find out who the Butcher's accomplice was. Hollis implicates Archibald Dylan, a miner who died back in the 1800s. In investigating the case, The Flash finds himself attacked by a vengeful spirit and possessed by Deadman, who uses his skills to prevent The Flash from being possessed by the infamous Keystone Killer. Deadman learns that the Fletcher family and its varied descendants who founded the Gem Cities are the targets of the Keystone Killer, which is an evil possessing spirit and they work together to thwart it.
The idea that the Keystone Killer has a tie to Barry Allen's origin story makes for interesting reading, even it is both quickly resolved and leaves that mystery still fairly wide open. The final chapters of The Flash, Volume 5: History Lessons requires an understanding of Deadman - which I have a basic knowledge of from the Brightest Day crossover event - and his work in the universe of The New 52 (which I was unfamiliar with, so the abrupt appearance of the House Of Magic was a bit of a shock). The final story is essentially a ghost story and that is a tough sell for The Flash.
The artwork in The Flash, Volume 5: History Lessons is depressingly underwhelming. For the bulk of the book, the colors are muted and faded, which previously was a technique used in the series to indicate flashbacks. There is not a single panel or sequence that truly pops in The Flash, Volume 5: History Lessons, which gives readers the feeling that with Francis Manapul's departure from the book DC Comics just gave up on the book.
Ultimately, The Flash, Volume 5: History Lessons is one of the most disappointing volumes in the history of The Flash and one that is impossible for me to recommend readers bother with.
For other The Flash volumes from The New 52, please visit my reviews of:
For other Graphic Novel reviews, please check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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